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Focus on New Orleans: Why Raiders should be worried about how Saints won opener

As the Raiders dive into preparations to face the Saints next Monday night, there were four developments from New Orleans’ opener that shouldn’t fool them.

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  • Perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees played what even he admitted was an “awful” game.
  • All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas had the poorest statistical game of his illustrious five-year career.
  • Coach Sean Payton said he’s probably never had a worse game calling plays.
  • Alvin Kamara had the ugliest rushing numbers of any qualifier in the league this week.

Individually, these occurrences can be seen as encouraging signs for a team welcoming the Saints into town. Collectively, they should concern the Raiders greatly considering these all took place while New Orleans was handing a talent-laden Tampa Bay team a double-digit defeat.

The Saints’ 34-23 dismantling of the Buccaneers, despite all that afflicted the franchise’s top four stars, should be looked upon with admiration, which is no doubt how the Raiders see things.

Didn’t Mark Davis’ dad have an old slogan that captured that sentiment?

* * *

Here’s a closer look at the Raiders’ first game at their new $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium home:

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GAME ESSENTIALS: Raiders (1-0) vs. Saints (1-0) at Allegiant Stadium, Monday at 5:15 p.m. (PT) on ESPN-TV. ODDS: Saints -5.5.


Michael Thomas may not play

The Saints could be without the NFL’s top receiver, the guy who set the all-time single-season receptions record last year with 149. Thomas, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year a year ago, not only had the quietest game of his career with three catches for just 17 yards, but Thomas also suffered what the team calls a “high-ankle injury” late in the game. While being tackled, teammate Latavius Murray accidentally rolled into Thomas, who limped off the field. Although the injury can sometimes take weeks to heal, the 27-year-old believes he can be on the field against the Raiders. Thomas’ status should be the biggest story throughout the week.

A less dynamic Brees?

The 41-year-old Saints quarterback delivered a victory but also showed he’s quite a different player than the bold slinger who helped the Saints win a Super Bowl 10 years ago. His quick-delivering, dink-and-dunk style may look different, but he’s still getting the job done. Even when he’s not at his best. Brees went 18-for-30 for just 166 yards — with two TD passes — and a 71.9 quarterback rating. Brees had just 32.3 percent of his passes ruled “successful,” according to Next Gen Stats’ analytics, his second-worst total since 2016. “I’d probably say I played awful as well,’ Brees said after being told Payton blamed himself for “awful” playcalling.

An efficient offense

While the Saints have the makings of a Top 10 defense, the Raiders have to like a lot of what they accomplished in their season-opening win. Not only did the offensive line keep Derek Carr clean — no sacks or quarterback hits — while allowing him to throw for 239 yards, it helped pave the way for 133 yards rushing (4.3 per carry). Also, Josh Jacobs’ emergence as a factor in the passing game was eye-catching as he turned in career-highs of four catches and 46 yards. Jacobs also slashed and bruised his way to 93 yards rushing and three touchdowns.


A swarming, disrupting defense

Derek Carr will see stars when he breaks the huddle and looks over the Saints defense. From edge defender Cameron Jordan to linebacker Demario Davis, and to defensive backs Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins, there are playmakers galore. Then there’s corner Janoris Jenkins, who gives up an occasional big play but has his big moments — like his pick six against Tom Brady Sunday. The Saints also roughed up Brady in the pocket, hitting him seven times and sacking the 43-year-old three times. Imagine the boost the Saints will get when defensive end Marcus Davenport (elbow) — 10.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 43 quarterback pressures returns at some point soon.

Saints not-so-secret weapon

Taysom Hill, the NFL’s version of a Swiss army knife, was at it again Sunday. The backup quarterback/running back/tight end gained 65 yards on five touches while energizing the Saints in their win. Hill completed his only pass for 38 yards to Kamara, he caught a pass for 14 yards, and he ran three times for 13 yards. The Raiders signed Marcus Mariota and saw him potentially as a change-of-pace guy like Hill. Unfortunately for them, Mariota will miss at least the next two games while on injured reserve with a reported pectoral injury.

Ex-Raiders poised to do damage?

At one time, both tight end Jared Cook and running back Latavius Murray were each the focal point of Raiders offenses in years past. Now they’re both perhaps the most prominent players in supporting roles for New Orleans. Cook, who had career-best totals of 68 catches and 896 yards with the Raiders two years ago, led Saints receivers with 80 yards on five catches Sunday. Included was New Orleans’ most explosive play, a 46-yard catch and run down the sideline. Murray, who had a career-high 1,066 yards rushing in Oakland in 2015, was the team’s leading rusher with 48 yards.

PROBABLE DIFFERENCE-MAKER: Alvin Kamara. Will the Raiders take a cue from the Buccaneers and key on Alvin Kamara? The Bucs held Kamara to a paltry 67 total yards on just 17 touches, including 16 yards rushing on 12 carries (an NFL-worst 1.3 yards per carry for qualifiers). Still, Kamara scored a pair of touchdowns and grabbed a 38-yard pass from Hill as part of his five catches for 51 yards. Raiders linebacker Cory Littleton is in for another rough assignment in coverage Monday night. He had to check Christian McCaffrey Sunday and was primarily responsible for the Panthers’ star getting just three catches for 38 yards.

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